An Oklahoma romance writers' group recently launched a contest for the best book in each of nine sub-categories (example: "Paranormal –- Single titles –- dark or light, futuristic, magic, alternative Earth, urban fantasy, vampire, werewolf, etc."). The problem: no gay romance allowed.
The Guardian reports on Romance Writers Ink's unusual rule for its 2012 More Than Magic contest: "MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category." When novelist Kari Gregg contacted the contest organizers to ask why same-sex entries were banned, she was told, "RWI chapter members were uncomfortable with accepting same-sex contest entries. 'Same-sex was just too much.'" This decision got a lot of criticism — Courtney Milan wrote,
You can write M/F erotica. You can write M/M/F. You can write about aliens from another planet who have tentacles, or barbed sexual organs. You can write degrading rapes. None of those things are barred from entry in the More than Magic contest, and if you write them, they'll try to find judges who are predisposed to like your books.
But they won't do that if you write same sex romance — even if it's a sweet romance with no sexual contact whatsoever.
Ultimately, RWI decided to cancel the contest entirely. But their explanation was pretty unsatisfying:
After much consideration, RWI regretfully announces the MTM Published Author Contest has been cancelled. All monies and books received from entrants will be returned as soon as possible. We have heard and understood the issues raised, and will take those concerns into consideration should the chapter elect to hold contests in the future. Please note: our contest coordinator, Jackie, is a chapter member who graciously volunteered to collect entries and sort by category. It is unfortunate that she has become the object of personal ridicule and abuse. We recognize the decision to disallow same-sex entries is highly charged. We also opted not to accept YA entries. We do not condone discrimination against individuals of any sort.
Banning all same-sex stories really isn't the same as refusing to accept YA. Says Heidi Cullinan, president of Rainbow Romance Writers,
The excuse of the moment seems to be that 'same-sex romance is a genre'. No, we aren't. I'll buy that we're a group, a demographic perhaps, but no more than 'Southern women romances' should be a genre or 'non-Caucasians' should be a genre. Same-sex romances cover every genre you can imagine and every one recognized by RWA –- even inspirationals.
It's also worth noting that while excluding YA is a politically neutral decision — maybe they just wanted to keep the number of entries down — excluding LGBT stories is decidedly not. The contest organizers clearly decided that gay stories were icky and they didn't want to deal with them — in making this decision, they allied themselves with every group that seeks to portray gay love and sex as less legitimate than the straight variety (like, say, the folks who didn't think a lesbian couple's how-we-met story was appropriate for their alumni association's website). Cancelling the contest doesn't really right this wrong — it just makes it seem like they'd rather not judge romance novels at all if they have to judge gay ones. A better solution would have been to find some judges who were well-versed in gay romance to make the contest more inclusive — and maybe teach everybody at Romance Writers Ink not to be assholes.